Commentary

'The Walking Dead,' 'Bates Motel' And 'Sharknado' Among Top TV Attractions At Comic-Con

The annual San Diego Comic-Con will at its core always be about animated characters and comic-book superheroes, but there is no denying that television has staked its claim as the dominant medium at this annual popular culture extravaganza, unarguably the entertainment industry’s largest promotion and marketing event of the year.

Even the thunderous announcement by Warner Bros. that Batman would be featured in the sequel to this summer’s movie blockbuster “Superman: The Man of Steel” and a surprise appearance by Tom Cruise to promote his upcoming film “Edge of Tomorrow” couldn’t eclipse the collective excitement that dozens of television panels, parties and other events generated over the weekend. Nothing topped the frenzy surrounding sessions for AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” The CW’s “The Vampire Diaries,” ABC’s “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” and BBC America’s “Doctor Who,” among many others.

As has been true in recent years, anything involving “The Walking Dead” stood out from just about everything else, from a giant panel in the cavernous Hall H to a truly spectacular display inside the Con itself, which featured a replica of the prison that was a primary location in the series’ third season.

Fans who simply walked by the display were happily terrorized by drooling, growling zombies that were separated from them by a wire fence. Those who cared to wait on line and eventually enter the prison could be photographed as they were attacked by the flesh-eating monsters.  As massive and impressive as all of this was, a far simpler “Walking Dead’’ promotional activity out on the streets was just as memorable. Bloodied guards were leading hissing “walkers” (as the zombies are known on the show) around area sidewalks, periodically tying them to telephone poles while warning passersby not to get too close.

What’s truly amazing about the Con is how quickly a new television property can gain a massive presence throughout this four-day gathering of fans, rumored this year to have exceeded 130,000 attendees. The best example of this was Syfy’s sudden sensation “Sharknado,” a movie that looked to be a throw-away cheapie when it premiered on July 11, but with a little help from Twitter became one of the summer’s hottest social media phenomena.

Its success was great news for Syfy, but it was wholly unexpected, prompting a last-minute scramble at the network to keep the momentum going one week later in San Diego. “Sharknado” had a relatively modest but very effective impact at the Con, with groups of surfers walking throughout the Gaslamp District carrying surfboards with shark bites in them, handing out cards that contained information on how fans could help create a title for the inevitable sequel, announced during the convention.

Syfy draped the massive Marriott Hotel with a promotional image for its upcoming thriller series “Helix,” but those surfboard-wielding street teams seemed to command just as much attention. (So did some of the “Sharknado”-inspired costumes seen around the city, including a woman balancing a toy-shark-filled tornado hat on her head.)

Syfy transformed the street-level restaurant Maryjane’s in the Hard Rock Hotel into a themed environment for its new action-adventure series “Defiance.” Every inch of wall and counter space inside the restaurant was utilized to promote the show, as was every item on the menu. In the back of the restaurant, fans could be photographed with a giant blue Bio Man, one of the show’s many alien characters. The front of the restaurant was dressed as the “Defiance” Café and was one of the most prominent outdoor displays in the neighborhood.

As for other new shows that were well represented at the Con, one couldn’t escape the constant creative reminders of the new A&E series “Bates Motel.” Signs outside restrooms throughout the enormous San Diego Convention Center indicated that they were for Normas, rather than women, or Normans, rather than men. (Norma, of course, is the unbalanced mother of troubled teenager Norman in the show inspired by Alfred Hitchcock’s classic “Psycho.”) A club on 6th Street was transformed into the Bates Motel for a closing night party on Saturday that was one of the hottest tickets at the Con. A&E’s sibling network History on Friday threw a similarly impressive party for its hit “Vikings,” another new series with a major presence at the convention.

NBC’s veteran horror show “Grimm” and its new thriller “Dracula,” as well as its new drama “The Black List” featuring James Spader as one of the FBI’s most-wanted criminals, were prominently promoted with massive displays in an outdoor area that most convention-goers had to pass by every time they entered or exited the Con. The display included a massive crypt that contained the remains of Dracula; fans waited up to an hour to get inside, see the coffin and watch promotional clips from the series. The number of impressions generated for these three shows cannot be calculated.

 
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